“Through Called Forward Together in Christ, we have been asking what it means to be Lutheran and how we express this in today’s world. We have learned we aren’t as good as we could be in giving a clear answer to that question. We speak about grace, about our work in advocacy, about the relief and development work we do, about our inclusiveness and diversity – though I believe these last two are more aspirational than actual – about our ecumenical and interreligious dialogues and relationships. These are true and important, yet they are not exclusively Lutheran. Thanks be to God, many religious and secular organizations are deeply committed to serving the vulnerable and working for justice and peace. So what is distinctive about being a Lutheran church, and how do we agree on and unite around priorities that are important for the whole of the ELCA?”
So begins the July 2016 Consultation Paper on Future Directions of the ELCA which compiled the results of discussions from the “Called Forward Together in Christ” process which began earlier this year. A “Future Directions Table” was assembled to guide this process. Pastor Dan Gerrietts, from Trinity Lutheran in Mason City, serves on this table.
This discerning process has three stages.
The first stage which took place from January through June was to engage people from across the church through conversations held in congregations, and synod assemblies, surveys of rostered leaders and youth and young adults, meetings of church networks and specialized ministries, as well as input from the Conference of Bishops, Church Council and the churchwide organization.
The discussions were focused on these six questions:
- What is distinctive about who we are as a Lutheran church?
- What kind of church do we believe God is calling us to become?
- How do we become an inclusive, diverse church that is inspiring and relevant in different communities
- What is God calling us to do in a world that is facing unprecedented levels of poverty, conflict, and violence, interreligious tension, and displacement of people?
- What do we expect from our church leaders? And how do we recruit, invest in and support them to lead this church into the future?
- Will our current structures serve this church well into the future? How can the ELCA maintain strong congregational participation and ownership and become more connected to one church?
There were three opportunities for Northeastern Iowa Synod members to engage in these conversations during seminars at the Synod Assembly in June.
Following are some of the more common responses to the first three questions:
1. What kind of church do we believe God is calling us to become?
There is consensus that we have work to do to become a more inclusive church, in terms of race and ethnicity. We are just now beginning to recognize that Lutheran no longer equals Scandinavian or German.
Many mentioned we need to be open to risk-taking and open to hard conversations.
2. How do we become an inclusive, diverse church that is inspiring and relevant in different communities?
Again, in all three conversations, there was agreement that we need to be open to the communities around us. We need to seek people out rather than wait for them to come to us. “More listening than talking” was one comment. There is a recognition that we need to move out of our buildings and into our neighborhoods. “Service is relevant” was another observation.
3. If we had to decide that some things were more important than others in the next 5-10 years, what are your top three things?
When it comes to priorities the answers were more diverse, but there were still common themes:
- The centrality of scripture
- The need to hand down the faith with cross-generational resources and activities
- The importance of theological education and development of leaders in the church
- The need to be open to using the technology and digital tools available to us to share the faith
Stage Two of listening and gathering responses from these questions is complete.
A report, “Called Forward Together in Christ for the sake of the world: A Consultation Paper on Future Directions of the ELCA” has been published and is available to download and read.
Your feedback to this report is being requested. You can respond by taking a survey or emailing the Table at elca.org/future
The third stage of this process moves to decision making.
In November 2016, the ELCA Church Council will affirm a Future Directions Statement. The Future Directions Table, Conference of Bishops, Church Council members and leaders in the churchwide organization will contribute to shaping the statement in the lead-up to the Church Council meeting.
The goal is to achieve joint ownership of the statement by the ELCA’s leadership tables and invite others to join in leading the church forward based on a shared view of what is important. 2017 and beyond – The Future Directions Statement will be launched in 2017 as part of marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
The process will extend well beyond 2017 as the directions are interpreted and implemented across the ELCA’s complex church ecology. For more information, see https://www.elca.org/future.
It is not too late to be heard!